PORTLAND – Mayor Michael Brennan used his first State of the City address to highlight everything good he sees happening in the city, while stressing the need to build partnerships at the local, state and federal level.
Absent from the address was any criticism of Gov. Paul LePage’s controversial state budget proposals, which would suspend state aid to municipalities and reduce state education funding and property tax relief programs, potentially costing city taxpayers millions of dollars.
Rather than detailing how state budget proposals could hurt the city, the mayor called for building partnerships — such as the 12-member Mayors Coalition of leaders from the state’s largest cities, to increase the city’s clout in Augusta.
“I spent 13 years in the Legislature in the House and Senate and one of the things I found out was that when Portland stands alone in Augusta, we don’t do too well,” he said.
LePage’s budget proposals call for suspending about $6.1 million in revenue sharing to Portland, which the city has said would require a 4.3 percent increase in property taxes to maintain services. State education funding to Portland could be cut by roughly $870,000 this year — and this would be carried over into the next two-year budget. The city also could be forced to take over the state’s contribution to teacher retirements.
Brennan did emphasize that the city does rely on both state and federal funding.
“Working with the Mayors Coalition, working with the congressional delegation, we need to continue to have strong partnerships with our state government and with our federal government,” he said.
Brennan spent most of his time highlighting the positive — the city’s 5.6 percent unemployment rate (the state’s is 7.3 percent), the 8.4 million people who travel through the city each year, or its high rankings on national “best of” lists from health to sustainability to simply being hip.
Education was a dominant theme.
Brennan said he plans to make a major announcement next month regarding an education initiative that covers early childhood education, kindergarten through high school, and pathways to college. He provided no details.
He also said his Growing Portland work force development initiative — a partnership between universities, research and development groups and the private sector — recently received $40,000 from the Portland Development Corp.
“We’re going to create the jobs of the future. We’re going to close the skills gap. And we’re going to make sure we have a sustainable, green economy in the city of Portland,” he said.
Brennan celebrated the progressive city Portland has become — one that helps those in need and welcomes immigrants, including 800 to 1,000 Sudanese who now call Portland home.
“We are no longer the city my grandmother came to in 1909,” he said.
“We’re now a city of diversity; we’re now a city of cultural richness; we are now a city that is very different, and going forward.”
He also boasted about Portland’s status as the first city in Maine to perform a gay wedding.
Brennan made note of the new leadership in City Hall. Over the past year, the city has hired a new school superintendent, fire chief, police chief, city attorney, deputy city manager and planning director.
“All of these people represent new leadership and a new face for Portland and progressive approach to management,” he said. “I’m very excited to have these new people and this new energy.”
Brennan also highlighted his sustainable food initiative, which seeks to obtain half the food used in schools from local and state sources.
The address ended with a call for Portland to continue to be a more kind, inclusive and diverse community.
“It’s very important for me as mayor, and us as city councilors, to make sure while we’re going forward we’re engaging all those many voices in Portland that make Portland so unique, so rich and so wonderful to live in,” he said.
Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: